Queer Magic: Two Twin Cities artists on spirituality, queerness, and creativity

Photo by Madalyn Rowell

The Twin Cities are home to a vibrant spectrum of queer creators across many disciplines; betwixt and between are those who work with the spiritual fabric of the world. For those who keep alive pre-colonial spiritualities and traditions, reclaiming what may have been obscured or even demonized and reimagining how to dream into the future can be ways to decolonize legacies of historical and ongoing oppression. The following narratives center QBIPOC creators whose work and lived experiences deeply engage with the intersectionality of spirituality, queerness, and creativity through their own iterations of queer magic and liberatory visioning.

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Photo by Madalyn Rowell

“I do think art and our spiritual work and our ancestral work is all the same,” says Junauda Petrus-Nasah, a creative activist, writer, playwright, multi-dimensional performance artist, and a co-founder, along with Erin Sharkey, of Free Black Dirt, “a Minneapolis-based artistic collective bridging the cultural and the magical.” As a person who is also a witch, queer (as a politicized person), lesbian (married to a woman), and pansexual (in terms of attraction), these aspects of Junauda are inherent in her work. 

“I certainly feel that there’s a certain witchiness I walk with because of my queerness and I notice that in a lot of queer people,” she says. “There’s a certain way that we are very connected.”

She adds, “I’ve noticed a lot of my work as of recently has been me excavating queerness in ways that are connected to liberation. The different revolutionaries and witches and Black transgressors have had a huge intersection with my queerness. So that, for me as an artist, is like, how do I reclaim and dream that into my work?”

Junauda explores these topics in her forthcoming young adult novel “The Stars and the Blackness Between Them,” which is available for pre-order and will be published September 17 by Dutton Books for Young Readers. “It’s all about Black queer girls falling in love and being spiritual and cosmic and being awkward and liberatory,” Junauda says. 

Junauda’s writing also appears in “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good,” edited by adrienne maree brown, and it is from the lens of pleasure activism that Junauda passes on the liberatory wisdom of embracing joy, pleasure, sensuality, and sexuality to younger readers in “The Stars and the Blackness Between Them.”

“I’ve been very curious as to why is there so much shame associated with spirituality and religiosity? And that’s across the board, no matter your culture,” Junauda explains. “I think that is further impacted if you’re in a racialized body. We also come from generations and generations of people who have been cut off from their spiritual practices from their culture and who were taught that that shit is in fact evil that you even practice that.”

Photo by Madalyn Rowell

Junauda credits her parents, both immigrants from the Caribbean (her mother is from Trinidad and her father is from St. Croix), for modeling the freedom to spiritually explore. Although Junauda’s mother went to Anglican and Catholic churches, Junauda’s parents were both eclectic seekers and askers of big cosmic questions. On Junauda’s mother’s side are also herbalists, healers, and people who are generally just very spiritually connected, she says. 

Junauda recalls a formative collegiate level yoga class that she took as a 16-year-old high school student, and around this time she became interested in musicians such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, and jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane, who all had certain spiritual sensibilities that shaped and informed them. She started to explore Black spiritualities—mainly Yoruba and Ifa, which are spiritual paths that continue to be important to her, in addition to astrology. 

“I was a Black girl growing up in Minnesota in the ’80s with immigrant parents and I think there’s so much propaganda, so many ways that I was supposed to hate myself or see myself as inherently not good enough, not sacred enough, that my impulses as a sensual being, as a sexual being, were somehow seen as a way to undermine my sweetness or my importance and that’s with, I think, all Black children,” she says. 

The cultivation of witchiness and meditation is a way to unravel the very ways in which white supremacy ever tried to make her feel “wrong” or “evil,” Junauda says, adding that with age, the journey has become a more joyful one. “When I used to first practice all these spiritual things as a young person, I’d be like, I need to do this perfect. […] Now that I get older I just allow it to be like nature, like, yo, this used to be a part of everything.”

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For Keila Anali Saucedo Martinez Corona Salgado Villa Bolivar Ibarra, their name, in itself, is a story of ancestral connection. “I use those names to bring into the space all of the women who raised all of the women who raised all of the women who raised me,” says Keila, who is a queer playwright, “theater-maker,” and performing artist who has been a dancer for most of their life and involved in theater for over a decade.

They grew up in a “very, very, very Mexican Catholic household” and Keila honors that their parents’ devotion to Catholicism helped them survive as immigrants who “experienced a lot of racism, a lot of classism, a lot of hardship.” The church was a way for their parents to find “connection to the holy,” and, they say, “I think that’s beautiful and it has so much merit and I don’t think that works for everyone, specifically queer people. Specifically queer people of color who are trying to fuck shit up and understand the world differently.”

Photo by Madalynn Rowell

Keila’s work has been featured by their “creative home” Pangea World Theater (where they are the executive productions assistant); Patrick’s Cabaret; Lightning Rod; Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories; and, in May 2019, their play “Brujería for Beginners” debuted in 20% Theater Company’s “Q-Stage: New Works.”

As summarized by writer Giselle Defares, “Modern Brujería is in its essence magic that is a blend of herbalism, African magic and healing, and Catholicism.” Embedded in “Brujería for Beginners” is the adage “es un desde tiempos pasado,” which translates to: “it is a destiny from times past.” It is a destiny, Keila reflects, that they would be the artist in their family to hold and express these stories.

“I’m very lucky that I’ve found the practice of praying to my ancestors to understand them better as human beings. [My family is] really interested in our kinship and the exploration of that. […] The holiness in that really led me to Brujería,” they say. As a young Bruja—a practitioner of Brujería—Keila says they are new to their practice and feel private about it, but creativity is the praxis of their spirituality.

“As I began to discover more about the ways that spirituality could connect, I came to understand it as something that was a holy practice, a prayerful practice. From there, I began to think about the term conjuring—like, to conjure something into the space and the ways that so much of my creation is a conjuring of me channeling ancestry, storytelling, ways that I knew were right or true or things I had questions about, and conjuring an answer into the space in the form of a creative project,” they say.

The “Brujería for Beginners” soundtrack also gives a nod to Chavela Vargas, a Costa Rican-born butch who became a legendary ranchera singer in Mexico. “Chavela Vargas, in her queerness—all she had to do was sing a song and it shifted the way that worked. And, to me, that’s alchemy right there,” Keila says, naming Chavela Vargas as one of their most important queer creative ancestors. The non-monogamous relationship between Chavela Vargas and Frida Kahlo is “lifegiving” to Keila and many other queer Latinx people, they say, who look to the famous lovers as ancestors for relationships, and how to connect to and understand each other.

On that note, Keila is actively seeking collaborations, especially with queer Black and Brown and Indigenous folx: “I do my work only so that I can connect and learn from them specifically on these themes, on these practices of spirituality, on indigeneity. […] It’s a huge part of my process to have candles in a space and a sacred altar and table in the room to ground us in our work, so if folx are interested in those processes, I want to work with you.”

For more information about Junauda and her work, visit www.junauda.com. To reach Keila about collaborations or to purchase scripts, contact keilasaucedo200@gmail.com.